“It’s gonna be a revolution”: driverless cars in the City of London8. October 2019
“It’s gonna be a revolution”: driverless cars in the City of London
Plans to put driverless cars on the roads of Britain are now well advanced: According to a Guardian report, the first autonomous fleet operated in a “complex urban environment” in London.
Ford Mondeos, equipped with the software of the British technology company Oxbotica, was on the road this week on public roads around the former Olympic Park in Stratford. The directors of the £13.6 million, partly state-funded Driven programme said their original plan had been exceeded and they had more reason than ever to believe that autonomous vehicles could be used in real-life situations in a major European city. The Driven team is a combination of local planners, insurers, cyber security and data experts and Oxbotica.
Oxbotica explained that the first passenger trials of a separate company, an autonomous taxi-sharing service planned with taxi company Addison Lee in the capital, could now begin in June 2020.
For the time being, the cars will be operated with a security driver in the front seat who is willing to take control and who will be asked by the software to decide whether to intervene in difficult situations. On an otherwise autonomous drive through Stratford’s East Village, A-roads, intersections and residential streets, the security driver in one of the vehicles decided to take the wheel only once as a precaution when an oncoming minicab drove around a parked truck.
Dr Graeme Smith, Driven’s Programme Director and Oxbotica’s Senior Vice President, said the project made “autonomous vehicles on our roads” a reality. He also stressed: “The car is a scoop on the iceberg: that is the basis for a variety of other things that need to happen, from cyber-security to ensure constant and secure communication, to product liability insurance to real risk assessment.
Smith added that while there would be “small bags” for autonomous transport, the restrictions meant that cars “were at least five years away from being a service for robot axes and 10 years for showrooms”.
Prof. Paul Newman, founder and Chief Technical Officer of Oxbotica, said the ambitions for British technology went far beyond driverless cars.
“There’s no doubt that we won’t be behind the wheel in the future. But there will be different jobs around the technology,” Newman said. “It will be a revolution, but not a tragedy: More people will survive because of lower accident rates; these vehicles will share their experiences and be even safer.
Transport Secretary George Freeman said the successful Driven process “strengthens our position as the world leader in this field.
Meanwhile, the first public demonstrations of the first fully-fledged autonomous British bus took place in Birmingham on a test track in the National Exhibition Centre car park. The single-decker buses will test next year with up to 42 passengers on a 15-mile route between Fife and Edinburgh.